Cheryl came to see me for counseling and complained about her awful marriage, how unhappy she was with her husband, and that she was contemplating getting a divorce. Ben, a smooth talker with amazing charm, had captivated Cheryl. Because she had always dreamed of marrying a doctor or lawyer, someone who could earn much more than she did and provide her with a wealthy life style, she saw all the potential that Ben had and secretly hoped to mold him into a successful businessman.
As we talked she revealed the heart of the problem. Cheryl was furious because when she married Ben he expected to take over his father’s very successful business, but a year later the business failed! Even so, she was sure that he would turn into a top earner with her love and support. For all his winning ways Ben just couldn’t hold onto a job and went from one opportunity to another, always sabotaging his chances to do well. By the time I saw her, six years had past, they had two children and were deeply in debt. She was at her wits’ end.
Another client named Tom fell in love with gorgeous, smart and wealthy Jeannie. Although she told him that she did not want children, he didn’t believe her. After the first year of wedded bliss, Tom brought up the subject of starting a family and was shocked to discover that Jeannie meant what she said. She did not like kids and had no desire to have any. Tom couldn’t imagine his life without a family so they parted ways. He was in a state of shock and depression because he had assumed that he could change his beloved’s mind even though she was open and frank about her mind-set when they first met.
Recently, Jasmine, a teacher with a steady job, was dating Kent, and after a few months she began to think that perhaps the relationship might turn into something permanent. However, Kent’s job offered him an opportunity to leave the country for a year to do some interesting and important work. The couple decided to break off temporarily.
Twenty-something Kent wasn’t ready to settle down and was still playing the field romantically. Jasmine knew that he might continue dating while he was gone since they had no commitment, yet although she had some occasional dates, she didn’t want to get involved with anyone because she secretly wished that Kent would return to her and want to marry her.
When Kent returned he was engaged to someone else, and Jasmine felt as if her heart was broken. Although both had decided to cool the relationship Jasmine nurtured her secret romantic hope. Her reaction was based on a fantasy that had never been shared. It was just wishful thinking carried too far.
What went wrong in each of these relationships was that although there was a genuine attraction between these lovers, one partner entered the relationship with secret strings attached that the other was totally unaware of. Cheryl had lied to herself and Ben when she said she loved him. She really loved her fantasy of Ben as the business owner and wealthy spouse.
Tom loved the Jeannie that he idealized as the perfect mother for his children. The real life Jeannie was not that person, but Tom couldn’t accept her that way. Nor could Jasmine accept the fact that Kent was not ready to settle down, even though their relationship had elements that might lead to more in the future. Kent, Jeannie and Ben had no idea that there was a secret clause in their relationship contracts. They all assumed that their partners had chosen them because they loved them the way they were.
Most of us have had relationships where either we or our partner has not been 100% honest about our expectations. Starting in childhood with fairy tales where the prince rescues the princess and they live happily ever after and followed by chick flix and romance novels, we are brainwashed to believe that all will be OK in the end. We sweep our doubts or fears under the rug and pretend that once we have the ring on our finger, we’ll live happily ever after. We will ride off into the sunset as the credits roll.
That is what happened to newly-wed Quentina. Sanjay romanced her, wooed her and won her. It was a whirlwind courtship. Soon after they moved into their first apartment Quentina came home after a grueling day at work to find Sanjay there before her sprawled on the sofa watching TV. As she walked in, hoping to be swept off her feet by her lover, he said, “Woman, what’s for supper?” She burst into tears and replied, “How can you talk to me like that?” to which he replied, “Hey, we’re married now!”
If you want to avoid the unpleasant consequences of committing yourself to an unsuccessful relationship with strings, be honest with yourself about what you are hiding. Total self-honesty will lead you to true and lasting love. Ask yourself if you can accept this person, as he or she is right now, that they most likely will never change. If necessary go to a counselor for assistance in coming to terms with this dilemma.